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LED light replacement an ideal gov’t investment

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Seemingly lost in the rhetoric of fiscal restraint are meaningful attempts at making modest, tangible investments in achieving long-term financial solvency.

Thankfully, Iowa City officials recently provided an outstanding example of using such a rational approach in working to solve budget conundrums.

Over the last year and a half, the officials have worked to retrofit lighting fixtures in each of the city’s public parking garages with newer, more efficient light emitting diode technology. Although the project sounds overwhelmingly simple, officials assert it will save the city an estimated $500,000 over the next 10 years because of reductions in energy use and maintenance.

To give some perspective, Iowa City’s total maintenance expenditures, which include personnel, services, supplies, and capital outlay, totaled $551,034 in 2010.

By utilizing available state grant money and rebates awarded from the city’s energy provider, Iowa City will manage to make progress on updating its infrastructure while simultaneously cutting costs on future budgets. This decision is thoroughly commendable, especially given the current sentiment of slashing any sort of government spending — even in the case of domestic reinvestment.

As long as the bulbs are disposed of properly (LED lights can contain lead, nickel, copper, arsenic, and other metals), this project represents a clear victory for Iowa City.

“It’s a win-win for the community,” Assistant Transportation Planner Kristopher Ackerson told the DI on Monday, pointing out that energy savings will pay for all of the city’s costs within four years.

LED bulbs last much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs while using only a fraction of the electricity, and have been lauded by the Obama administration and environmental groups for years as being both eco-friendly and cost-effective. In fact, in a 2010 report, the U.S. Department of Energy stated LEDs carried the potential to reduce electrical use for illumination purposes by more than 25 percent annually, representing a national energy-grid savings of around $15 billion each year.

As a more recent technology, LEDs are much more expensive than traditional lighting equipment. Unfortunately, this limits their widespread application as funding for the required retrofitting is often not readily available, despite the fact that the long-term energy-savings can usually offset the original investment.

Iowa City administrators, however, saw this potential and made the correct decision. Although the LED replacements represent a large initial cost, by efficiently applying state grant money for partial funding, the project was able to come to fruition. In the end, the city was able to save a large amount of money in the long-term while also effectively renovating its facilities. The result: new fixtures and a municipal net savings of nearly $50,000 annually.

Government minimalists will undoubtedly find fault with the fact that the project was funded, in part, with grant money. This, however, should not rationally become a major point of detraction — one of the major purposes of allocating grant money is to allow for strategic domestic reinvestment.

Clearly, Iowa City has justifiably done exactly that.

The Department of Energy estimates that “rapid adoption of LED lighting in the U.S. over the next 20 years” can save about $265 billion and 40 new power-plant constructions, as well as reduce lighting electricity demand by one-third by 2027. Again, the initial investment will be substantial, but the long-term savings will deliver considerable fiscal and environmental net benefits.

“[The replacement program] is a great project for the taxpayers of Iowa City,” Ackerson said. “Being green is often good business, and this is a great example.”

Civil servants at all levels need to remember throughout budget negotiations that intelligent investments can not only go a long way in providing long-term infrastructure restoration but also a long way in balancing the ledger years down the road. Iowa City’s recent lighting endeavor represents this policy marvelously. Hopefully, it will serve as a benchmark for solid government reinvestment during the current era of budgetary strife.


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